RSF Social Finance Clients in Conversation

Money & Spirit
May 29, 2015 8:05 AM ET

Reimagine Money Blog

This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 RSF Quarterly. This dialogue is with John Bloom, Vice President, Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance and RSF clients Rose Feerick and Barbara Sargent.

Last fall at the SOCAP14 conference, RSF sponsored a panel titled, “What Does Spirit Have To Do With Money?” The participants, Barbara Sargent, Rose Feerick, and John Bloom (facilitator), began this conversation prior to the panel in preparation and it deepened more during the panel. This “conversation” is an extension of that dialogue. Our hope is that the questions we explored be engaged with by anyone reading this distillation. It would honor the participants and the dialogue itself were this to be the case.

The questions: What in each of our biographies led us to seek the connection between money and spirit? How do spiritual practices inform our work with money? What are some practical examples from your current work with money and gift which evidence the presence of spirit?

Barbara: During the 1980s I was gradually growing into too much wealth for my own comfort as a result of stock that had been gifted to me. My parents advised me to just keep these funds in the bank, not speak about it, and not give too much away.

Toward the end of the eighties I had become quite uncomfortable with this shadowed world, for this was translating into hiding from the reality of my own life, hiding from myself. There was also a nagging, if not fully conscious, feeling that not circulating the funds in service to people and life in general violated a fullness that I sensed was present in me.

I was scared of the exposure that being more public about the presence of this money would bring. At the same time, I was praying to be of service to the well being of the world. Now I can say that that prayer was heard, because the courage and energies needed came for what my husband Tom and I are in the midst of doing philanthropically and through our investments.

Rose: I grew up in a traditional Irish Catholic family in an affluent neighborhood. From a young age, I understood that faith was meant to shape how we lived and what we did with financial resources. I witnessed my parents’ generosity in responding to various food drives and fundraising requests. Neither of my parents paid any attention to fancy clothes, jewelry, or cars, which was a source of much embarrassment for me at the time. Even so, I knew that their lack of concern for image was because their hearts and values were rooted in something else—their faith.

I chose to study that faith in college at Georgetown University and there learned about inspiring men and women such as Dorothy Day, St. Francis, and Romero who left positions of privilege in order to confront the injustice of their times. I was also troubled by the economic injustice I witnessed as I took a two-mile bus ride every week from Georgetown to 14th Street to work with homeless women. I understood that Jesus had a lot to say about these realities and wanted to see if I could find a way to embody the Christian values of simplicity and social justice in my own life. How ironic, then, that as I was making this decision, I received a substantial financial gift. Of course, now I see that paradoxical moment as the holy joke that launched me on my path.

Barbara: I am taken by Rose’s expression of that ‘paradoxical moment,’ of receiving a substantial gift of money from, what I call, the universe. It is compelling for me to watch how the universe responds when we make a very serious commitment from our inner life. We are tested, and depending on how we respond, we can be supported by gifts of the energies needed to carry the commitment through, or not. For Rose this moment turned out to be the holy joke that launched her on her life path. This little story expresses a kind of sweetness and intimacy with the unseen world. For me, at a meditation retreat during this early period, an energy came with the words “just start a foundation.” From there I knew I would do so, as intimidated and scared as I was by the thought. When we started what became Kalliopeia Foundation, I asked myself, “What should this foundation focus on, what should it be about?”

During my growing up years I had become lost and without purpose, and the natural, spiritual orientation I was born with had disappeared, largely because this was not reflected in the culture in which I lived. So this is what Kalliopeia Foundation came to be about. Its mission is to support the evolution of communities and cultures that honor the unity at the heart of life’s diversity. It is not religiously affiliated, but through its grantmaking it honors programs that hold the sacred at the center, that work with authenticity, the re-emergence of feminine values, and with deeply holistic, emergent ways of living.

Rose: I am fascinated by the way Barbara’s journey with money led her back to her natural spiritual orientation. I have also found that working with money has deepened my spiritual journey. Here is what I mean: staying conscious of what is happening in my money life; engaging with financial tensions as a way to see where I need to grow spiritually; choosing to notice and let go of the desires to grab, get more, move from scarcity or fear; bringing my financial realities out of privacy and into transparent community—these practices allow me to become increasingly conscious of my inner life and then make choices that manifest my values and vision. One of those values is compassion for all the ways that I am not yet in full alignment.

I also practice prayer forms that emerge from the monastic stream of Christianity. These practices alongside my work with money are helping, I hope, to open my heart more fully to grace. They make it easier for me to witness the various drives and assumptions that I experience in my day-to-day life, which then give me an opportunity to choose which ones I want to live from. Over time, I hope that my life and financial choices are less sourced from an ego-centered operating system and more rooted in my spiritual heart.

Barbara: I so admire Rose’s willingness to stay present with and explore the dynamic tensions around wealth as part of her spiritual practice. The dynamics between those with and without wealth around power and privilege are so entrenched and strong, and for Rose to sit in conversation and work through these tensions is not only courageous but also contributing so strongly to the eventual breakdown of the separation. As we increasingly realize we are living in an interconnected world where the good of one is the good of all, perhaps those with wealth will increasingly use their resources to serve the wellbeing of all communities. Rose is pioneering the kind of conversations that are sorely needed.

After Kalliopeia was well established, Tom and I started New Field Foundation, which supports the agency of rural women and their associations in West Africa to improve the lives of their families. And most recently, we started Tamalpais Trust, which supports the development and strengthening of indigenous-led initiatives, organizations and networks that promote and serve indigenous cultures and lifeways, human rights, ceremonial practices, and the protection of sacred lands and waters. Indigenous peoples know how to be true stewards of our earth and its varieties of life. They know there is no sustainability without ceremonial life or without honoring the spiritual nature of existence. I think this last point is the key in terms of pointing to the most fundamental need of our time.

Rose: One of the specific needs that Harvest Time has been working on for the past nine years involves a project in Mississippi. The project began when we received a piece of land to give away in a way that would serve healing and transformation. The very act of making a gift in Mississippi has become an opportunity to practice a kind of sacred alchemy so that light can flow through a painful history and bring a hopeful future. Given the history of that particular corner of the world, manifesting that intention has required diving into the shadows of our culture and ourselves so that the diverse circle of people involved can partner from the place of their brilliance and not assumptions, fear or cultural norms that reinforce separation. This is not easy work. And yet, in Christianity we believe that grace is active in places where the shadow is operative and has the power to transform.

Barbara: What a beautiful story Rose tells of how this gift of land to community, done consciously and carefully with the engagement of spirit and self-awareness, can bring grace and transformation. What an invitation for all of us to engage gently, openly, and with maturity in conversations when we see our own or other lives shrouded by shadows where there could potentially be increased wellbeing or freedom from past wounds. In these polarized times this kind of engagement brings hope that we can learn to cross divides.

We live in a spiritually alive universe, and what we are conscious of is only part of the whole. To collectively acknowledge that the unseen and the unconscious parts of life are vitally potent, that we can ask for the energies of love to help us address the unrelenting problems we are facing, and that we can then evolve systems of living that honor this wholeness and the interconnectedness we are beginning to perceive—I think is the next step in our collective evolution.

Barbara Sargent is president of Kalliopeia Foundation and on the board of New Field Foundation. She and her husband, Tom Sargent, are active in building financial practices that can lead to holistic and truly sustainable ways of living. Her practice is within the Sufi tradition with Sheikh Llewellyn Vaughan Lee of the Golden Sufi Center.

Rose Feerick is the Director of Harvest Time, an ecumenical Christian ministry that invites people of wealth to engage questions of money as a doorway to spiritual transformation. Rose has been offering retreats, reflections and spiritual direction related to money and Christian faith for over ten years. She has a BA from Georgetown University and an MDiv from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. She lives in Redwood City, CA with her two sons who share h